Sometimes the gap between perception and reality can be exceedingly wide. What’s visible from the outside is often much different from what is being experienced on the inside.
Case in point, there are essentially two Starlin Castros.
There’s the Starlin Castro the fans see and have a love-hate relationship with. The one who is perceived by some as uncommitted, unfocused and inconsistent.
Much of this characterization is, of course, informed by the 2013 season. After two All-Star campaigns from 2011-12, in which Castro compiled 390 hits and earned a seven-year, $60 million contract, things went off the rails a little last year. Castro slipped to a .245/.284/.347 (AVG/OBP/SLG) line, often looking lost at the plate, bereft of the trademark confidence that defined his early career. That regression, coupled with some defensive lapses, have placed the 24-year-old’s every move under the fan and media microscope.
But there’s another Starlin Castro as well—the player his teammates see. This is the Castro who is putting up remarkable early-career numbers, goes to the post every day, is eager to learn, and brings constant energy and excitement to the clubhouse.
“He’s one of those guys who’s the face of the team,” said Cubs catcher and longtime teammate Welington Castillo. “I know a lot of people got on him last year, but that’s in the past. We have to move forward. It brings a lot of confidence for the team when he’s playing like this, when you see Starlin on the field. That’s a guy that never wants to be out of the lineup. He wants to play every day, no matter what. So he brings a lot of energy and a lot of positivity to the team.”
Through his age-23 season—which, as we all know, includes one very off year—the Cubs shortstop had compiled 692 hits. To put that into perspective, by age 23, Hank Aaron had 718 hits, Cal Ripken Jr. had 569, Derek Jeter had 385, and all-time hits leader Pete Rose had just 309.
In other words, the guy can rake. It’s difficult to fluke your way into 700 big league hits before you’re old enough to rent a car.
And through the first month-plus of the 2014 season, Castro looked to be back to his early-career form. His aggressiveness is back, and that has Cubs personnel excited about the future. For the June issue of Vine Line, we talk to Castro’s teammates, coaches and the man himself to find out what has triggered the young star’s resurgence.
As part of our ongoing Wrigley 100 series, we also go back to the 1940s at the Friendly Confines, when a group of trailblazing women turned the baseball world upside down. With World War II rationing taking its toll on major league attendance and players being redirected to the war effort, Cubs owner Philip K. Wrigley and other executives were desperate for a way to reinvigorate the game. Enter the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, popularized in the 1992 film A League of Their Own. We examine the role Cubs ownership and Wrigley Field played in the formation and life of the league.
Finally, with Father’s Day on the horizon, we get a little sentimental. Baseball is a tradition that has always been passed down from fathers to sons. To celebrate the holiday, we talk to current Cubs players about the impact their fathers have had on their lives and careers. Needless to say, when the Cubs take the field 162 times a year, there are some pretty excited dads out there.
For more in-depth stories about the Cubs organization, pick up the June issue of Vine Line, or subscribe for just $29.95. You can also find us on Twitter at @cubsvineline.
Even the great ones need a few hitting tips every once in a while. With the Yankees in town on Tuesday, Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks, sat down with Yankees captain Derek Jeter for a unique Q&A that will appear in Vine Line and Yankees Magazine. Keep an eye out for the upcoming July issue to get the complete interview.
It’s shockingly easy to overlook the familiar. I have two small children at home, and as far as I can tell, they never grow. That’s because I see them every day, so I don’t notice the incremental changes. In reality, they’re growing at an alarming rate. At least, they’re eating enough that I figure they must be.
I’m also fairly certain every time Bradley Cooper walks onto the Paramount Studios lot, he doesn’t think about how amazing the place is or bask in the eerie glow of the Psycho house. When you see something every day, the details run the risk of getting overlooked.
Yes, this is all a long, apologist’s way of saying I am occasionally guilty of taking Wrigley Field for granted.
I, of course, am aware of the beauty of the Friendly Confines and am extremely excited to celebrate this centennial season with legions of Cubs fans around the globe. But I work at the facility, so it’s easy to just think of it as my office. And, trust me, there are some unique challenges to sharing your office space with 40,000 people or trying to do interviews in a cramped clubhouse before an important game.
But occasionally I get a shock to the system that reminds me of where I am—and how lucky I am to be there. Sitting up in the small media cafeteria at the home opener and eavesdropping on Ernie Banks, Randy Hundley, Fergie Jenkins and Billy Williams reminiscing about the game at the table next to mine was one of those moments. Talking to Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts on the field about the upcoming season was another.
Ultimately, the thing that really reminded me how special it is to work at Wrigley Field was reading Carrie Muskat’s article on Jason Hammel in this month’s issue. The 31-year-old right-hander, who signed a one-year deal with the team this offseason, talked to Vine Line about how excited he is to finally get a chance to pitch at Wrigley Field.
Amazingly, in eight previous seasons—including three in the National League with the Rockies—Hammel had never pitched at the Friendly Confines prior to signing with the club. It’s easy to believe major league ballplayers are unfazed by such things, but Hammel called pitching in front of the ivy a “dream come true.” Hearing his excitement about the storied ballpark reminded me to value all the little moments—cramped clubhouse or no.
We also time travel back to the 1930s this month to examine the impact of longtime—and somewhat reluctant—Cubs owner Philip K. Wrigley. Though Wrigley ran the team for more than 40 years following the death of his father, William Wrigley Jr., even he’d admit he never fit the mold of the typical baseball executive. During his tenure, he had many ups and downs with the team, but through moves like beautifying Wrigley Field and televising games, the understated owner had an outsized impact on modern Cubs history.
Finally, starting this month, our minor league coverage gets a boost. We begin by bringing back the Minor League Notebooks, in which we keep tabs on all the Cubs’ full-season minor league affiliates. We also delve into perhaps the next frontier of scouting—the mental game. Now that most teams are using advanced statistics and data to influence decision making, everyone is looking for new ways to gain an advantage on the competition. The more organizations can understand about what makes a player tick, the better decisions they’ll make in the draft and the international market.
If you’re looking for a psychological edge, make sure to check us out on Twitter at @cubsvineline. We cover all the action, from Low-A to Wrigley Field.
And we promise to take nothing for granted.
The Cubs concluded a memorable pregame ceremony to honor the 100th birthday of Wrigley Field with a historic biplane flyover. Several former Cubs players also took part in the festivities, including Ernie Banks, Glenn Beckert, Andre Dawson, Ryan Dempster, Bobby Dernier, Randy Hundley, Fergie Jenkins, Gary Matthews, Milt Pappas, Lee Smith and Billy Williams. Sam and Spencer Brown, Ron Santo’s grandchildren, stood in for the Cubs Hall of Famer, while Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers were on hand to commemorate the Chicago Bears nearly 50 years at the ballpark.
Few people get to see Wrigley Field in all her glory. This is before the hot dogs are on the grill, before the distinctive sound of cowhide meeting hard maple rings through the park, before 40,000 cheering fans make their way into the belly of the Friendly Confines.
The best time to experience Wrigley Field is in the morning, when the sun is shining and the park is empty. That’s when you can see the venerable, 100-year-old ballpark for what she is—a beautiful, lush green oasis in the middle of one of the most densely populated cities on the planet.
Bereft of fans, players and noise, you also get a better sense of just how anachronistic Wrigley Field is—from the brick outfield wall, to the ivy, to the manual scoreboard, to the light standards. Wrigley is a shrine to baseball. Not a modern, Disney-meets-Dave & Buster’s amusement park, where a sporting event just happens to be played amidst other fanfare designed to keep modern, iPhone-obsessed fans occupied. Wrigley is all about the game.
And sitting solo in the grandstand, it’s easy to imagine what the stadium looked like and felt like when Andre Dawson roamed right field, or Ron Santo manned the Hot Corner, or Grover Cleveland Alexander toed the slab. The concourses and halls of the stadium are filled with memories, stretching back past Babe Ruth’s supposed called shot.
For 100 years, Wrigley Field has been the altar upon which North Side baseball is consecrated. And a century of sporting (and other) events calls for a little celebration.
Ultimately, what else can be said about one of the great, historic cathedrals of baseball? We decided to turn it over to the people who know the stadium best and let the images and quotes speak for themselves.
Happy 100th birthday Wrigley Field. Here’s to 100 more. (Click the images below to start the slideshow.)
Wrigley Field will celebrate its 100th anniversary Wednesday. And like all birthdays, a cake will be present. Fans will be able to view an elaborate decorative cake from Carlo’s Bakery, the setting of the TLC show Cake Boss, near the Ernie Banks statue on Clark Street until the third inning. The first 10,000 fans at today’s game will also receive a birthday cupcake, compliments of Jewel-Osco.
The Ernie Banks statue gets dressed up for the 100th birthday festivities at Wrigley Field. All the statues around the park will be wearing the Chi-Feds jerseys from 1914. The first 30,000 fans at the game will also take home a replica Chi-Feds jersey.
Both teams will be wearing Federal League throwback uniforms for Wednesday’s game—the Cubs will be dressed in Chi-Feds uniforms, and the Diamondbacks will be dressed as the Kansas City Packers (who the Cubs beat 9-1 on April 23, 1914, to open then-Weeghman Park).
(Photo by Brian Kersey/Getty)
In what was probably one of the easiest Player of the Game decisions of the young season, Cubs starter Travis Wood took matters into his own hands on a rainy Monday night, almost single-handedly propelling the North Siders to a 5-1 victory over the Diamondbacks. In seven innings of work, Wood gave up one run on six hits and notched nine strikeouts. But the Cubs lefty didn’t stop there. He also blasted a three-run home run high into the left-field bleachers off of D-backs starter Bronson Arroyo in the second inning and plated another run in the fourth with a double over center fielder Tony Campana’s head. Wood’s nine strikeouts and four RBI were both career highs.
Wood was so formidable with the bat that Arizona manager Kirk Gibson actually pulled Arroyo in favor of reliever J.J. Putz when the Cubs pitcher came to the plate with the bases loaded in the sixth. Putz got Wood to ground into a 1-2-3 double play.